An ode to BRAC and Bangladesh

March 20, 2022

Reading Time: 3 minutes

On 21 March 2022, we celebrate BRAC’s 50 year journey. Recited at an event to honour BRAC’s five decades of helping people realise their potential, this poem was dedicated to over 100,000 BRAC staff members working across the world.

He said we were a basketcase.

A man
In a big house
In a faraway land

Another told us not to speak our own language.

A man
In a big house
In a faraway land

A third said we could not save our own children from dying.

A man
In a big house
In a faraway land

There were many who did not believe in us.
But we believed.

When we say we understand struggle
It’s because we have struggled

Born from blood and cyclones,
Founded on freedom,
Crisscrossed with rivers – of fish and tears

Let no one tell you our journey has been easy.

When they cut down our mulberry trees
planted by hands growing new futures.
When they abducted us, for wearing our logos,
signalling hope in dark places
When they burnt down our schools,
so our girls could not learn,
because a woman with a voice will not go unheard.

Let no one tell you our journey has been easy.

If you want to measure impact
Listen to women’s voices, growing louder and louder.
Because decision-making tables are not quiet places.

If you want to understand change
Look at their eyes, as they get clearer and clearer.
Because the path ahead is now something they can see.

If you want to hear the future
Ask a child about their dreams.
They’ll tell you birth does not need to be destiny.

We have grown up together,
This country of many rivers
This pink logo
Two comrades, on a road never travelled

He used to say, our Abed bhai,
When he helped people,
That he was just turning a light on
So it would seem fitting
At 50 years – that we’ve never been surrounded by stronger stories

It’s said of him that when he walked into a room
He was human sunshine
So it would seem fitting
At 50 years – that our goals have never shined brighter

And even though now, it has been two years already,
His values are still a lighthouse
Of guidance
Of reason
Of encouragement
So it would seem fitting
We continue to guide

To the teacher in the Philippines
Inside the tiny colourful school
Tucked deep in the heart of a small village on an island.
Helping children write their first stories.
Amidst conflict, and safety warnings, with displacement possible any minute
But she keeps on teaching.
You are that guide.

To the programme organiser in Uganda
Who watches a woman be harassed,
Who stands up in front of everyone
Calls out his friend’s behaviour.
Carves a path for every man and woman listening – and all their children.
You are that light.

And to the women on the red motorbikes all the way back in the 70s in Bangladesh
With only grit as your armour
Riding through muddy roads, and catcalls, and prying eyes,
You are that strength.

You are BRAC at 50,
You are living proof that anything is possible.

We have been shown – by Abed bhai and by Bangladesh
What a life can be worth.
That change takes courage.
But, if we are brave enough, we’ll find a way.

50 years is also a timely reminder
That while so much has been achieved,
Wars wage on all around us every day
Peace, equality, diversity – nothing is a one-time event
We’ve got to show up and fight every day.

And now, into the next 50 years,
we must carry.
Side by side,
That sobering realisation
And that shining legacy,
Hold that light within us,
Know what is ahead but what we have inside.
Because we have never faced bigger challenges
But we have never been more ready.

There is always light
We just have to be brave enough to be it
And shine even brighter every day, so one day, everyone will see it.


Sarah-Jane Saltmarsh is the head of programme and enterprise communications at BRAC.

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